Owner renews appeal on WW toy store sign ruling

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WALLA WALLA -- Inland Octopus owner Bob Catsiff is continuing his legal battle to try to keep the giant purple octopus mural above his toy store at 7 E. Main St., despite an adverse Court of Appeals ruling against him.

Catsiff's attorney, Michael de Grasse, told the Union-Bulletin in late April that Catsiff will file a motion with the Spokane-based Court of Appeals asking it to reconsider its recent ruling.

In an opinion filed April 12, a three-judge panel rejected Catsiff's contention that his constitutional free-speech rights are being restricted by the city of Walla Walla's sign code.

The judges' decision allows the city to enforce its sign regulations, which prohibit the octopus mural because it's too large. The panel ruled the city's size and placement restrictions are reasonable and based on legitimate government interests.

De Grasse said arguments in the new motion will focus on whether the mural is commercial speech, which the Court of Appeals determined it is.

"We don't believe the Inland Octopus mural is commercial speech," de Grasse said. "Therefore, it's entitled to more protection under the First Amendment (to the U.S. Constitution) than if it were commercial."

If the appeals court panel denies the motion to reconsider -- which could occur in a few weeks -- Catsiff will ask the state Supreme Court to review the panel's ruling on the case, de Grasse said. It could take several months for the high court to decide whether to grant or deny review, then months more for a final decision if such review is granted.

Catsiff has decided to exhaust all appeals at the state level because "it's a matter of free speech and constitutional principle," de Grasse said.

If he ultimately loses in state courts, Catsiff then could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case. But de Grasse said Catsiff hasn't decided if he will take that step.

Catsiff commissioned the octopus painting -- which covers the entire front of the building from above the entry to the roof -- on Labor Day weekend 2010. He had no permit and the city ultimately ordered him to remove the mural or otherwise bring it into compliance with the sign code.

Until he exhausts his appeals, the city is allowing the mural to remain. However, $100-a-day fines that began Oct. 14, 2010, have continued accruing and Catsiff will have to pay if he ultimately loses.

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